EuroscepticismEuroscepticism refers to skepticism about or opposition to further European integration, coupled sometimes with a desire to re-establish national sovereignty. In this context, antonyms are pro-European and europhile.
Euroscepticism is stronger in wealthier northern European countries, either full European Union members (UK, Sweden, Finland, Denmark), candidate (Malta) and non-candidate (Switzerland, especially in German-speaking cantons). Poorer mediterranean countries tend to be more europhile, although eurosceptic movements exist there also.
Precisely what eurosceptics oppose varies from country to country: in countries outside the European Union (e.g. Norway, Switzerland, the candidate countries), euroscepticism manifests itself as opposition to joining it (in the case of Norway, the most serious concern is disagreement with current EU fishery policies); in those which are members, but do not participate in the Euro (the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden) it manifests itself as opposition to Euro membership. Opposition to monetary union rests upon the relative weakness of the economy inside the eurozone compared with the strength of those economies that have chosen to remain outside.
Eurosceptics oppose the idea of a federal Europe in the sense of a federation that is as integrated as, or more closely integrated than, the United States of America. They therefore oppose measures they see as reducing their sovereignty, such as the European Rapid Reaction Force, the constitutionalisation of the treaties, the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor (or even the establishment of EUROJUST), the extension of EUROPOL to include enforcement powers, the harmonization of taxation or social security, and the abolition of national vetoes. They often propose either radical modifications to the constitutional structure of the EU to reassert the power of national parliaments or the full withdrawal of their nation.
Euroscepticism might have been the cause (at least in part) for:
- the Norwegian rejection of EU membership, on both occasions
- the Swiss rejection of membership in the European Economic Area
- the initial Danish rejection of the Maastricht treaty
- the Danish rejection of the euro
- the Irish rejection of the Nice treaty in the first referendum (approved in the second referendum on October 20 2002)
- the Swedish rejection of the euro in a referendum on September 14 2003.
Eurosceptics have also created their own to show their arguments. Supporters of the EU feel the UK Eurosceptic tabloids have played on former conflicts and national stereotypes to denigrate the UK's European neighbours. For this reason they have often been accused of being xenophobic. Most eurosceptics choose to disassociate themselves with such behaviour, and prefer to concentrate their arguments on what they see as the EU's essentially unaccountable and undemocratic structure.
Euroscepticism or the lack of it is thought to be a source of tension in many European political parties whose membership is split between these positions: in one case, the British Conservative Party has apparently been riven by strife over Europe since the 1970s. Currently Euroscepticism is a significant current of opinion within the UK Conservative party to an extent perceived to be greater than in any comparably important political party in any other EU member state. Many commentators believe this to be an important reason why the conservatives lost the British General Election of 2001. Other commentators argue that the British electorate was more strongly influenced by domestic social policy issues than by European affairs. This disagreement is illuminated by the result of the 1999 election for the European Parliament, in which the Conservative Party was unsuccessfully challenged by a breakaway Pro-Euro Conservative Party.
In the aftermath of the electoral defeat of the UK Conservatives in 2001, the issue of eurosceptism was important in the contest to succeed William Hague as party leader. The winning candidate, Iain Duncan Smith, was widely seen as even more eurosceptic than his precessor and fears were expressed that his victory could result in a significant defection of europhile conservative support and the transformation of the Conservative Party into a marginal, single issue, party committed to leaving the EU.
Once in office as opposition leader, Iain Duncan Smith attempted to secure the disaffiliation of British Conservative Members of the European Parliament from the federalist European Peoples' Party grouping. In order to continue to maintain membership of a pan-european alliance, as is required to retain parliamentary privileges, Duncan Smith sought the merger of Tory MEPs into the eurosceptic UEN grouping. This move was vetoed by Tory MEPs partly on account of the degree of euroscepticism represented by this move and partly because of the presence within the UEN of representatives of neo-fascist parties.
The UK Labour Party is also split into eurosceptic and europhile factions. While the Prime Minister Tony Blair is an ardent supporter of the euro, a significant minority of Labour MPs have formed the Labour Against the Euro group opposing British membership of the single currency, receiving support from parts of the Trade Union movement.